The transcontinental airline business between New York and California has long been one of the more profitable in the United States.
A sector tirelessly fought over by legacy and low-cost carriers, the most recent battle was staged with upgraded airplanes and fancy lie-flat seats. Now that that skirmish has settled (see: JetBlue’s Mint), the next arms race is about how much service each carrier can provide.
Last week, United and JetBlue began the posturing.
United started the transcon shuffle last week by announcing that it would pull out of New York’s John F. Kennedy airport by early fall. Instead of operating out of Long Island, it plans to focus its fleet at Newark Liberty airport, expanding its cross-country service there with more long haul, 757 aircraft.
The airline was able to expand in Newark by trading some of its landing slots at JFK with Delta Air Lines, which according to Airways News will be using its slots to expand service to the west coast. By consolidating more service at Newark, United hopes to improve its marketshare in the transcon game and provide better connecting service from the west coast to Europe.
Not two days after United announced its big plans, JetBlue revealed that it will be increasing its service from JFK airport to the west coast. Starting on October 25th, the airline plans to offer “increased service” with their Mint product to San Francisco and Los Angeles. More expansion is also apparently coming down the pipeline in 2016, according to their EVP of commercial and planning.
With these increases to service between the New York and the west coast, United and Jetblue hope to appeal to passengers with not only their hard product but with their range of departures and arrivals available at all times of the day. Like there are now shuttle flights between Boston, New York and DC, many carriers hope that increased flexibility will bring a stronger value to the customer. And with demand high and planes full, there’s plenty of space to experiment with new service.
Surprisingly, most customers will also end up benefiting from the route jostling. More flights and stronger competition between carriers from the east coast to the west coast means that fares will stay low while innovation (ie, new cabin designs) stays high. With apologies to the Brooklynites that used to fly on United, everyone should come out of this battle unscathed.